In the wake of the historic flood of 1927, the United States Congress made the people of Mississippi a promise. After the water receded, the legislative branch took action to protect areas along the Mississippi River from future overflows, passing the Flood Control Act of 1928 and eventually authorizing the Yazoo Backwater Project. These measures told area residents that, when future rains came, those living above a certain elevation would be protected.
Similar assurances were made to those living by the Mississippi River in other states. Louisiana and Arkansas received pumps to mitigate the damaging effects of flooding. But the promise still has not been kept for Mississippi, leaving the Delta vulnerable. This situation should not continue. It is time to finish the pumps.
Fixing Past Mistakes
Progress has been made on aspects of flood control for the Yazoo Backwater Area in Mississippi, but the effort to install the pumps was stopped in 2008 by a veto from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This action – based on inaccurate claims about potential harms to the Delta’s ecosystem – overrode the congressional authorization for the project. The agency’s veto left the region unable to move forward with a project that would save lives, property, and habitats. EPA also failed to offer realistic alternative solutions to address the flooding.
I am working with EPA to reverse its 2008 mistake and allow this effort to move forward. I am also pursuing legislative options, including a joint effort with Senator Hyde-Smith to introduce the Flood Reduction, Wildlife Habitat, and Water Quality Improvement Act of 2019. This bill would prohibit and nullify EPA vetoes of US Army Corps-approved flood control projects authorized by Congress, including the pumps for the Yazoo Backwater area.
The Pumps Would Save Lives and Money
The need for these pumps has been demonstrated once again by historic flooding, which has left local homes and businesses across half a million acres in the South Delta underwater for most of 2019. Farmers in one of the most fertile parts of our country are unable to plant crops, roads are underwater, deer and other wildlife are dying, and residents are forced to leave their houses behind. The fact that these repeated disasters could be prevented by the Yazoo Backwater Pumps adds to the outrage.
This July Senator Hyde-Smith, Congressman Guest, and I joined with Governor Bryant to request President Trump make a Major Disaster Declaration for the flooded parts of our state. The president answered our request, opening up federal support for some of those who need it. But the continued presence of floodwaters in several counties has prevented local and state officials from conducting damage assessments, delaying much-needed resources for the most affected areas.
Federal and local support has somewhat eased the burden in the Delta, and I hope those in the remaining counties will soon receive the relief they deserve. But these are stopgap measures. The pumps would be a permanent solution. Funds to repair damage from repeated disasters would be saved if they were installed, more than offsetting the costs of installing the new flood control system. Most importantly, it would provide certainty and safety to those living in affected areas.
Thousands of Mississippians have made their homes, businesses, and lives in the Delta. They are not asking for special treatment. I am working with my colleagues in Congress and in the executive branch to keep the promise made to them so many years ago.